After seven weeks in Krakow, life has found its own rhythm as I make time to volunteer for Ukrainian refugees with A Drop in the Ocean at the Szafa Dobra (free shop) and also make time for myself to explore the city.
I’m in the flow of Krakow. I know where to go to climb a castle, the best spot for a river-stare, where to bring visiting friends and which restaurants serve food that’s above average.
I walk a lot.
When I returned to Krakow after my week of traveling through Poland, the owner of my hotel let me know that I had to move to a different apartment in a different area of town.
I tried to fight it; I may have begged, but in the end I had to move.
It was my own fault.
My writing about my amazing apartment in the Old Town connected people from all over the world to the hotel’s website.
It’s as if I posted a neon sign online that said, “Rent my place!!!”
The owners tried to hold my apartment for me, but someone came in and offered an insane amount of money to rent out two full floors of apartments for his entire extended family.
Note to self: Stop telling the truth about the things you love, or you will no longer be able to afford them.
The man who works the reception desk walked me to my new place, a ten-minute walk away.
“You are the writer?” he asked.
I told him I was.
“We are happy with your writing.” he said.
I smiled, wondering if it was too late to go back in time to hold off writing about my love for that apartment until after I’ve flown home.
Bye window seat. Bye favorite church next door. Bye daily lemonade. Bye tram stop on the same block.
He walked me through the park and across a major intersection. We went down a series of streets before he told me the key code for the front door.
This was a different experience. Now I’m living like a local. If something goes wrong, I’m out here on my own. I’m not afraid of the independence, just sad I to lose my security blanket of having the hotel's reception desk close by.
The first apartment he showed me was a dump: I told him there was no way I would stay there. Luckily it hadn’t been cleaned yet, so we moved on.
The second apartment had someone else inside already.
The third apartment was far nicer than my original apartment, with a full living room, separate bedroom, a great table for writing and even a full kitchen.
It wasn’t the area I wanted, but I had to give in.
“Yes. Thank you so much. This will work.”
I locked the door behind him and left the key in the lock on the inside of the door so that even if someone else had a key, they could not enter.
I didn’t unpack for hours and was finally relaxing when I heard someone in the hall outside my door. I listened to the voices read out the number of my lockbox. They got it open.
It's okay. The key is inside the apartment with me.
But who has come to get the key? Is it the original owners of the apartment? Did they change their mind about renting it out?
I listened as several people yelled outside my door.
They pounded on the door with their fists.
My breathing quickened. Should I hide in the closet? Were they going to break down the door?
Yes, the door was secure. No, they couldn’t see me inside. But should I hide?
I called the owner and told her that I was terrified: who was banging on my door?
She explained that in the time that it took the sweet man from reception to settle me and my stuff here in the new apartment and walked back to the hotel to enter it into their system, someone else rented the apartment online and automatically got the lock box information.
She promised that they wouldn’t be back. They were given a different apartment down the street.
I hoped they weren't hiding in the hallway, waiting to punish me for stealing their place.
I stayed on the couch for hours, ignoring the dwindling daylight hours. I needed to go outside to learn my neighborhood so I could find my way to volunteer first thing in the morning.
I finally forced myself to go out. The hallway was clear.
The area was quiet, but the streets nearby were bustling. I bought some fruit at a grocery store nearby, then had to hold the fruit in my hands because I didn't bring a grocery bag with me; they don't supply bags in Poland.
I found my way back to my apartment and started the washing machine, my first machine on this trip. During the spin cycle, the machine sounded like a hovering helicopter. I wonder if my neighbors can hear it?
After volunteering the next day, I learned my new neighborhood.
If I turn right outside the front door and walk two blocks, I can take the same tram I took before, #1, to head to volunteering. If I turn left and walk two blocks and cross a series of roads and tram tracks, I can take tram #22 to volunteering.
I am six-minute walk from my favorite church, and in the other direction I am an eight-minute walk from my favorite ice cream, so I can make deliberate choices based on my mood.
Last night I walked to Kazimierz and met other volunteers for a "Drop" team dinner at an Israeli restaurant right on the square in the Jewish Quarter.
Hamsa Hummus & Happiness Israeli Restobar, Szeroka 2, 41 Miodowa 31 – 053, Krakow.
I had a plate of humus with lamb, pomegranate seeds and almonds. Such a delicious combination of foods.
Yes: their menu lists Gluten-free choices. Yes, I will return.
The team began telling travel stories, which was no surprise: we’ve all traveled here from many different parts of the world.
Margaret told stories about riding camels in Morocco. She said, “A bigger butt is a stable butt.”
Bill told stories about driving through the northwest province territory of Pakistan long before there was phone service in that part of the world. He said, “No matter where you are, there’s always someone who will help you out.”
Kang told stories about walking El Camino last spring. He said, “Life can be so simple.”
It can be challenging to make friends in this environment. Some people volunteer for a week, others a month. Being a “Drop” means saying goodbye every day and also meeting new people every day.
One “Drop” said that his heart hurt from all of the goodbyes.
I’ve been volunteering at the free shop in Krakow the longest of all of the “Drops.” When I leave Krakow next Wednesday, my friend from Los Angeles whom I’ve dubbed, California, will be the senior “Drop.”
Being here is a lesson in change. Sometimes life changes and you have to go to a free shop to get humanitarian aid. Sometimes you have to move to a new place for reasons that are out of your control. Sometimes the people around you leave as their lives swirl in different directions for different reasons.
And then at the end of the day just before I close my eyes, I listen to my heart. In the quiet of the night, she has a lot to say.
I like it when she is happy.
Listening to Micha give the shop's morning update to the English speakers.
Other people fundraised and asked me to help them shop. On it!
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